330. Six Days
by Jeremy Bowen
The BBC's Jeremy Bowen tackles the 1967 Six Day War between Israel and her neighbours Egypt, Syria and Jordan. And as is to be expected, the reaction to this 2003 book attracted howls of anti-semitism from the Pro-Israel lobby. Certainly his claims that Israeli soldiers murdered prisoners and civilians and looted Arab property could be expected to draw the ire of those who favour the plucky little Israeli school of history. Bowen argues the 1967 War was indeed a David Vs Goliath affair - only the Israel was military Goliath. Not that, according to Bowen, all Israelis were in on the secret of how much better prepared for war their country was than their Arab neighbours. Bowen marshals his facts well and while obviously no fan of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank he is also critical of the Arab leaders who so mishandled the war and in fact the whole crisis, sacrificing soldiers and civilians needlessly. The United States of America and the Soviet Union hardly come out of this book well either. Bowen gets away with rapid changes of location and side in a fast paced timeline based narrative which encompasses military, diplomatic and civilian experiences. He succeeds in putting a human face to war and suffering both during and after a war which is still not, fifty years later, still not really over.
329. Sweating the Metal
by Flt Lt Alex "Frenchie" Duncan
This is a look at the experiences of Royal Air Force Chinook pilots in Afghanistan. I was suspicious about the better than average quality of the writing, so I looked beyond the author credit on the cover page and found the copyright is not Duncan's name but that of journalist and military writer Antony Loveless. The pair tell Duncan's tale well. There are also contributions from some of Duncan's fellow pilots sprinkled throughout the book. Most of the best stories relate to picking up wounded soldiers and civilians while under fire. Duncan comes over as a nice enough bloke; he takes pain to stress that the bravery awards, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Force Cross, reflect as much on the excellence of his co-pilots and crews as on his own actions. He heaps effusive praise on the squaddies manning isolated bases dotted around Helmand Province. His rather more dismissive comments about some members of the military who never left their bases but bought great big killing/combat knives before their return to the UK appears to have raised the ire of those who never left their base and bought great big killing/combat knives before their return to the UK. I liked the fact that towards the end of the book Duncan admits he is not that keen on returning to Afghanistan. The early chapters focus on the training Duncan had to go through before being trusted with an expensive and complicated Chinook twin-rotor helicopter. There is a very odd mistake when it comes to the name of the American military supermarket known as the PX; the name appears in the book as BX, mistranscription from tape or a slip of the typesetter's finger? It would be interesting to know more about the mechanics of Duncan and Loveless's collaboration. At least I'd be interested. This is a well constructed look at life in the firing line and helps widen the public's picture of what went on in Afghanistan.
328. Charlie Company
by Peter Cochrane
I missed out on this book when it first came out in 1977 and came to regret it. These recollections of a Second World War officer in the Cameron Highlanders is often cited as a classic example of the genre. I'm not sure I would go that far, but they are very good read. Peter Cochrane went into the publishing after he was demobbed in 1946 and he certainly has a way with the written word. He refuses to become bogged down in shot by shot, bayonet charge by bayonet charge, accounts of each battle that he and the men of C Company of the 2nd Camerons fought in the Western Desert, Eritrea and Italy. Instead he paints a vivid picture of what it was like to be in battle and on campaign - just enough detail to give a flavour and feel, not enough to bog the reader down. Cochrane was awarded both the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order but writes so modestly about his own role in the fighting that some readers may be left wondering why. The book is almost as much about some of the characters he served with as about his own experiences and thoughts about command at platoon and company level. The book is heavily sprinkled with the kind the humour that helped get Cochrane, his fellow officers and their men through some pretty hard times. This book may have benefited from being written in the 1970s when memories were still fresh and Cochrane was still at the peak of his writing powers. Sadly, some more recent examples of the genre are all too obviously retirement projects that add little to the reader's understanding of war or the Second World War in particular. This in contrast is a fascinating insight into a Scottish infantry unit at war.
Pension Misery Highlighted
The Dorchester Review , a leading Canadian magazine when it comes to history, is carrying an article I wrote about British Army pensioners, many who served under the Duke of Wellington's command, who were caught up in a disastrous scheme which involved them giving up their pension entitlement in exchange for land in the British Colonies or United States. I became interested in what happened to the so-called Commuted Pensioners after realizing one of the main suspects as a contributor to Vicissitudes in the Life of a Scottish Soldier had been lured to Canada under the scheme.
The latest edition of Canada's Dorchester Review features not one but two articles from Paul - Churchill in the Trenches and Drug Store Commandos. The first link takes you to an extended version of the article which appeared in the DR about Winston Churchill's time in command of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on Western Front while the second is an article about the Lovat Scouts training in the Canadian Rockies as mountain warfare specialists.
Canadian Connection with With Wellington in the Peninsula?
The British Canadian newspaper ran an article in its May edition about a possible connection between one of the soldiers in my new book With Wellington in the Peninsula and a disastrous government scheme to settle ex-soldiers in Canada while depriving them of their pensions.
Irish Terrorism in Canada
In between working on a major project, I wrote another article for the Dorchester Review here in Canada. The attempt by terrorists to destroy a Canadian canal lock in 1900 is often dismissed as being the work of bunglers. But a closer look reveals a tale of murder and links successful bombing of the House of Commons more than a decade earlier. Few seem to know that one of the gang was found dead with a bullet through his heart. Attempts by US politicians, including President William Taft, to persuade the Canadian authorities to release the terrorists is better known. Dynamite Dillon
Also see - Dorchester Review
The Dorchester Review, based in Ottawa, Canada, recently published an article I wrote about one of the more eccentric of the British regiments - Victoria's Royal Canadians. Most Canadian historians seem unaware of that a regiment was raised in Canada to fight in the Indian Mutiny.
The Winter Issue of the Scottish American Military Society's magazine The Patriot contains a two page interview with yours truly. I thought the least I could do in return was give them a plug. At a later date, I'll see about either linking to the article or posting a version of the interview on the SMD site.
It’s been a busy few weeks. Last Saturday (Nove. 3) the Scottish Daily Mail published a two page spread under my byline about the 2/10th Royal Scots campaign against the Bolsheviks in northern Russia 1918-1919 titled "The Tsar's Fighting Invalids". I’ve found a link to a site which carries the article but before I post it I want to make sure I’m not sending you somewhere you might regret going. The Daily Mail article let the cat out of the bag when it comes to the fact that I’m working on a new book – working title, Jock and Rorie – Tales of Scottish Soldiers. Read about the Forgotten War
Scottish Military Disasters has been launched as an e-book. And it’s now improved.
Preparing the book in e-book format offered the chance to correct some minor errors.
“I wouldn’t say it’s worth someone who has the print version going out and buying the e-book,” said author Paul Cowan.
“But in preparing the e-book we’ve corrected a couple of little irritating misprints and one mistake that probably only annoys me and a couple of my relatives.”
The book is one of the first from the Neil Wilson Publishing catalogue to be released as an e-book.
“Neil’s stable of authors includes such giants as Nigel Tranter, so this is a real honour for me,” said Cowan.
“This will make the book far more accessible to readers in Scotland and around the World – and also in certain countries far more affordable.
“I’ve found where it is reasonably priced overseas, it’s been selling like hotcakes.”
Glasgow-based Neil Wilson said the move into e-books was as a result of public demand.
Wilson teamed up with the respected e-book team at the Faber Factory for the conversion to the new format which will make Scottish Military Disasters available on a variety of devices, including most e-readers and mobile phones.
“We will also go online with Apple soon,” he added.
For details of how to buy the e-book version –
The debate over whether Scotland produces some of the finest fighting men in the World could go on for ever. What is certain is that pride in the military is woven into the Scottish psyche and that that pride has been ruthlessly exploited by the British Establishment.
In the popular imagination the Scottish soldier is a kilted infantryman. The infantry are the men who go through the meat grinder in almost every war and Scotland has provided the British Empire with more than its fair share of infantry. In the fighting after D-Day in 1944 a British study suggested that although the infantry made up only 25% of the troops involved; they suffered 71% of the casualties.
(While I can’t put my hand on my heart and say my research for Scottish Military Disasters points to the Scots having the worse military record in Europe, for most of recorded history it hasn’t been very spectacular. People remember Bannockburn because it is one of the few battles against the English that the Scots won. Even when the English were heavily outnumbered, at battles such as Flodden in 1513 and Dunbar in 1650, they still managed to win. Many English, and Irish and Welsh soldiers for that matter, regard their Scots counterparts as a bunch of blowhards who write cheques with their mouths that their battlefield performance fails to honour. The counter-argument goes that the Scots go that extra mile to back up their boasting.)
But where does this Scottish martial pride which encouraged so many young Scots into the infantry during two world wars come from?